Saturday, September 15, 2012

Bob Dylan: Tempest

I rarely buy CDs anymore, because albums hardly seem to exist as such these days with iTunes and other downloadable formats making individual favorite tracks available.  However, I wanted to hear Bob Dylan's new Tempest album the tradional way, from start to finish. And here's my response after a couple of spins -- subject to change after further listening.

First of all, a salute to Dylan for fifty years of album-making, without resting on the laurels of a sack full of early hits. Second, special recognition for his combination of lyrical and musical exploration -- carrying the torch for a variety of traditional musical styles while keeping a sharp edge as he looks to the past yet forges ahead. Finally, his singing voice is as gravelly as ever as befits a prophet of primal myth and fragile human fate.

With Tempest, we have  a variety of musical styles blended seamlessly around intense lyrics. As always happens to me when beginning to consider for the first time some film by an avant garde director like Jean-Luc Godard, the visceral question is: can I get all the way through this in one setting? This is awful! When first considering Dylan's Tempest, as with a Godard work, it was only after about ten or fifteen minutes of paying attention that I was hooked. By the time I made it to "Narrow Way," the third track on Tempest, something clicked. I was in for a penny, in for a pound. This was something weird and cool, crazy and tight. By the end of the album, sheer amazement had kicked in -- by God, he did it again!

Some decades ago now, Ian Curtis, the gloomy lead singer of Joy Division, was watching Werner Herzog's gloomy film Stroszek (1977) while listening to Iggy Pop's gloomy album The Idiot (1977) -- whereupon he hanged himself. I thought of this today while Charlie Kaufman's Synecdoche, New York (2008) played in the background just as Dylan rounded out Tempest with a thoroughly heartrending fourteen minute chronicle of the sinking of the RMS Titanic one hundred years ago -- followed by a sendoff for John Lennon in which early in the song Dylan notes:

He turned around and he slowly walked away
They shot him in the back and down he went.
("Roll on John")

Tempest is a strong pot of coffee, an epic chronicle, so fair warning to those with fragile psyches like Ian Curtis -- you might better stick with humming "Don't Worry, Be Happy" or something along those lines. Seriously. 

For most Dylan fans, though, Tempest will be yet another masterful album to absorb and enjoy, for sure.

The watchman he lay dreaming
Of all the things that can be
He dreamed the Titanic was sinking
Into the deep blue sea.

Today's Rune: Fertility.


Adecmr said...

Great record! Love Bob Dylan and so glad that he can still crank out amazing records after 50 years! such a legend!

jodi said...

Erik, I admire your fortitude. As only a marginal fan-I could not do it. I like Bob's writing much more than his actual music. In that, I think he is a genius!